Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

World Telecommunication and Information Society Day
ITU Award Presentation Ceremony

17 May 2011, Geneva, Switzerland


Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this ceremony on World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. This day is celebrated annually on 17 May to mark the founding of ITU and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865.

This year, as we celebrate ITU’s 146th anniversary, we focus our attention on the world’s rural communities in our quest to connect the remotest corners of the globe to the benefits delivered by information and communication technologies, ICTs.

Today we are privileged to have some of the world’s luminaries in our midst who have devoted their attention towards promoting ICTs as a means of providing a better life through global sustainability, particularly in rural communities.

I congratulate Her Excellency President Tarja Halonen of Finland, Mr Sam Pitroda, and Ms Kristin Peterson who have received this year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Award.

Ladies and gentlemen:

We are very privileged that Her Excellency President Halonen has accepted this year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Award. President Halonen is co-chairman of the High-level United Nations Panel on Global Sustainability and has focused on several key issues, from sustainable sourcing to improving access to education and improving maternal health in low-income countries. Finland is one of the premier centres for ICT innovation and productivity, especially in the mobile phone sector. In July 2010, Finland made broadband a legal right for all citizens, which is in line with ITU’s campaign to accelerate broadband connectivity in order to feed both rural communities and urban centres with the means to meet their development goals and aspirations.

I am very pleased that Minister Suvi Lindén is here today to accept the Award on the President’s behalf.

I am also very pleased to introduce you to Sam Pitroda. Sam is a telecommunications innovator par excellence. He has been at the cutting edge of information and communication technologies and a long time supporter of ITU. He is currently Adviser to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations and Chairman of the National Innovation Council of India. He is also widely considered to have been responsible for India’s telecommunications revolution and a leading campaigner to help bridge the global digital divide. As technology Adviser to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the mid-1980s, Mr Pitroda not only heralded the telecom revolution in India, but also made a strong case for using technology for the benefit and betterment of society through several missions on telecommunications, literacy, dairy, water, immunization, and oilseeds. He has continued to redefine the role technology can play in a society like India by linking it to better delivery of services for the underprivileged in the country.

And finally, I am pleased to honour the winner of this year’s Award: Kristin Peterson, CEO and co-founder of Inveneo, which is a non-profit social enterprise that takes computers, Internet access and telephony to rural and underserved communities in the developing world. To help offset connectivity issues and environmental challenges, Inveneo’s solutions incorporate cost-efficient and sustainable features that include ultra-low-power computing and long-distance wireless connectivity, and they partner with local ICT entrepreneurs for in-country deployment. Ms Peterson has led Inveneo’s efforts to deliver education, healthcare, economic development and relief projects in Haiti and in 25 countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia with life-impacting ICTs. ITU has also had the privilege of working in partnership with Inveneo in delivering training in low-cost rural wireless networking in developing countries, such as Kenya, Uganda and the Caribbean.

I am very pleased that this year’s award recognizes innovation as a means of meeting the aspirations of people around the world and in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize Deborah Tate, former Commissioner of the US Federal Communications Commission and the recipient of the 2009 World Telecommunication and Information Society Award. She attended the celebration in Shanghai last year as well and I’m very pleased that she is with us again today, this time as my special envoy for online child protection.

I once again welcome you all to this award ceremony which marks World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.

Ladies and gentlemen:

ICTs are constantly reshaping the way the world communicates while creating opportunities for a better life through long-term, sustainable development, not least among the most disadvantaged sections of our society.

Today, ICTs are the powerhouses of the global economy and offer real solutions towards generating sustainable economic growth and prosperity. ICTs also act as catalysts in accelerating progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

In the rural context, ICTs provide enhanced opportunities to generate income and combat poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy.

ICTs and related e-applications are key instruments in improving governance and rural services, such as:
  • Providing community health care;
  • Safe drinking water and sanitation;
  • Education;
  • Food and shelter;
  • Improving maternal health and reducing child mortality;
  • Creating opportunities for gainful employment and livelihood;
  • Empowering women and the more vulnerable members of society; and
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability.

Half the world’s population — nearly 3.5 billion people — resides in rural districts and far flung communities, representing the poorer, less educated, and more deprived cousins of the world’s urban citizens. Among them are as many as 1.4 billion of the world’s extremely poor people, who are also among the least-connected to the benefits of ICTs.

We cannot allow this situation to continue. It is time for global action to connect rural communities to the opportunities offered by ICTs.

ITU is committed to connecting the world and to ensuring that the benefits of ICTs reach the remotest corners of the world as well as the most vulnerable communities.

I am proud to say that our work at ITU in developing the standards for ICTs, managing vital spectrum and orbital resources, mobilizing the necessary technical, human and financial resources, and strengthening emergency response in the aftermath of devastating natural disasters has met with unprecedented success as we enter the second decade of this millennium.

Although mobile penetration has spread rapidly, with over 5.3 billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide, the priority now is to drive content through enhanced broadband access aimed at establishing powerful information and communication highways — networks that will feed both rural communities and urban centres with the means to meet their development goals and aspirations.

I am proud that ITU has taken a leadership role in increasing the roll-out of broadband as a state-of-the-art technology to firmly establish a universally accessible knowledge-based information society.

I am honoured by the presence of our laureates, winners of the 2011 World Telecommunication and Information Society Award, who share our goals and aspirations.

They have shown their leadership and dedication in connecting the world and making it possible for people everywhere to harness the full potential of ICTs so that we can all enjoy a more productive, peaceful and — in every way — a better life, particularly in rural areas.

I wish you all a very successful World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, as we re-dedicate ourselves to connecting rural communities to the opportunities offered by ICTs.

Indeed, let me remind you at this point that we have issued a Call for Action – calling upon all stakeholders, and notably policy makers, regulators, operators and the ICT industry, to endorse the adoption of policies and strategies that will promote ICTs in rural areas and contribute towards a better life for all.

I know that many have already responded to this call for action, and have organized in-country programmes to mark WTISD 2011, and I would like to express my gratitude to all of them on behalf of ITU.